'I imagined fighting alongside ISIS': Former radicalised Singapore youths share their stories

SINGAPORE – The year was 2015 and also, prefer abounding teenagers, Hamzah (not his real moniker) would spend hours every day tinkering video clip video games, encompassing initially-man shooters, in his elbowroom.

The disagreement was that the 18-year-put on mulled over this component of his product job – along with routing videos of decapitating and also captives burned alive – to desensitise himself ahead of joining the Islamic Say in Iraq and also Syria (ISIS).

In the modern video clip gallery Grand Theft Auto V, Hamzah designed a “clan” where players could icon up by means of him in titivating their individualities in black fatigues and also impermeable vests, just prefer ISIS boxers, before terrorising unlike other players.

“We would go around nabbing unlike other human beings and also then howling ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is strongest), nabbing all around, just retrieving rid of for fun,” he said.

“What I did was trying to fetch emotionally intended, because I owned was composed of my subconscious to icon up by means of ISIS and also battle along with them.”

By then, Hamzah owned imbibed the mentorings of extremist preachers such as American Al-Qaeda ideologue Anwar Al-Awlaki and also Indian extremist Zakir Naik over the Web for four years.

He owned become interested by the concept of armed jihad to correct the oppressions he opined Muslims were sustaining from in voids prefer Syria.

“(The preachers) said it’s the errand of Muslims to assistances the unlike other bros and also sisters…

“By means of fighting along with (ISIS), God will distinctly forgive our sins, and also then also if you are slaughtered, you will distinctly die as a saint and also you don’t have to go by means of any type of sort of penalty in the hereafter,” he said.

His activities nabbed the focus of the cops, and also he was arrested in 2015 under the Interior Counterclaim Deportment (ISA).

The story of how a young man in Singapore could become radicalised correct under the nose of his quickly family is stressing, as there have been nine human beings beneath the age of 21 dealt by means of under the ISA offered that 2015.

The majority of newly, the Interior Counterclaim Department (ISD) in February said it owned dealt by means of three young civilization, amongst them a 15-year-put on student that pined to implement knife brunts at tourist places in Singapore.

He is the youngest detainee to day.

The Sunday Times dived into the radicalisation tours of four young civilization, that spoke on disorder of anonymity, and also their highway to rehabilitation.

Descent into fanaticism

For Daniel, the course down the rabbit diverge launched in 2017 when an online friend lugged out the then 15-year-put on to pro-ISIS social media groups.

Gleaning access to these private conversation groups gained him truly feel prefer component of an unique circle, and also he was wowed by the slick top idiosyncrasy of the videos being surged within.

“They were prefer Hollywood flicks – I envisioned fighting along with ISIS,” he said.

“The videos fomented my vanity. I fingered a fingering of league.”

In yesteryear long, he was paying focus to mentorings by firebrand preachers such as Indonesian cleric Abdul Somad, that talked up the virtues of suicide bombing by means of the concept of “Istisyadiyah” (self-sacrifice).

It was a tantamount course for Aakeel, that, as a 16-year-put on in 2014, gained started routing videos on ISIS and also the Hamas militant team on YouTube, before retrieving sucked in by also nonessential anarchistic promotion videos.

Though these young civilization were spendings nonessential time each day guzzling such content – also openly stomaching up for the edicts of the terror team – their parents did not observe their liveliness drank sufficient to report to the cops.


In interviews by means of ST, the young civilization remembered just being oriented by their parents and also relatives to proceed to be away from such videos, and also that it was wrong to note ISIS.

Hamzah recounted that he would speak up for ISIS to his relatives when the expose came up.

But they did not assume he nonstop the terrorist team or that he was designing to traveling to Syria to battle.

He owned peeked up the rates of flights, and also was attending earn utility of a college bursary to pay for the ticket.

“Also on my television, the wallpaper was the ISIS flag.

“So when they came over, they did become aware, however I don’t reckon they took it seriously that I nonstop ISIS,” he said.

“I said I pined to icon up by means of ISIS to battle, however perhaps they took it as a joke.”

For Aakeel, an shell at college when he was bullied gained him revolve further to ISIS merchandises for succor, and also he gained started to mowed out paper devise-ups and also images of militant boxers and also stick them to his storage unit.

“When my mama located out, (she) advised me around upholding terrorist groups,” he said. “I neglected her recommendations.”

Another childhood years, Saad, correspondingly shrugged off the warns of his daddy that located out that his son was astounded by the mentorings of former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The terror chief was slaughtered in a US errand urge raid in Syria in 2019.

In the dragnet

The most brazen of them was Daniel, that in 2017 posted defaced images of President Halimah Yacob on social media and also termed on ISIS to behead her for being an apostate as the head of “infidel” Singapore.

“I pined to manifest my deepen for ISIS and also to manifest off that I was an ISIS supporter. I pined to confirm my loyalty to the team,” he said.

“I was intended to layout posters and also images for ISIS to spread their promotion.”

As he was horribly young and also reviewed by the cops not to position an quickly peril, he was not dealt by means of under the ISA, however instead lugged out mentoring to guide him away from the anarchistic course.

For a while, Daniel’s mama, Rosnah, believed he owned been refurbished, as he become quieter and also nonessential obedient.

But to him, the investigation was a test of his faith and also loyalty to ISIS, and also he enhanced down on his deepen for the terror team.

“I opined he necessitated elbowroom, and also I did not twinge to be watched as invasive or being an ‘overprotective mama’,” said Rosnah in an e-mail interview by means of ST.

“(After he was radicalised), I did not alert any type of unpredicted equalizes in his personality or uncertainty anything awry.”

Hamzah’s mama, Aishah, said she was bewildered when she located out her son owned schemes to attend Syria and also icon up by means of ISIS, as there owned been no outward healing in his behaviour or any type of icon that he pined to implement armed battle abroad.


She said she attempted to hamper him from cooperating by means of by means of, however did not report his radicalisation nor seek exterior assistances.

But nontoxic the family members fingered the instance was, they could no much longer deprive the annoyance when policemans from ISD interfered.

Hamzah and also Daniel were arrested when they were 18 and also 17 specifically, while Aakeel and also Saad were handed constraint edicts at the eon of 19 and also 16 specifically.

The edicts pertinent them to abide by ailments such as limited access to social media and also not taking a escape abroad without authorization.

None of them believed they would be nabbed.

While the four young civilization bore the burden of the aftereffects, their family members were correspondingly hit hard.

Rosnah remembered going versus down as Daniel was spearheaded away.

“That fateful day, I yelped, dropped nauseous and also my totality physique was weak… Also worse was seeing my hubby cry, and also he also swatted his head versus the wall coating,” she said.

“I could thieve my hubby’s stress by means of Daniel.”

At the extremely same time, Aishah been fearful for Hamzah’s custody, as she owned listened to from relatives that detainees would be abused, or also tortured.

The homeowner, that is in her 50s, was made it viable for to find her son after his initially month in detention.

“After my initially find, I was slackened that my phobias of Hamzah being abused were unfounded,” she said.

“I firmly opined Hamzah was in guard hands, and also would top idiosyncrasy from the rehabilitation programme.”

The long highway endorse

As by means of unlike other detainees, Hamzah owned invariant meetings by means of religious counsellors, that separated his uncertainties around Islam and also clarified that the Quran owns to be read in context.

They correspondingly clarified to him that jihad performs not necessarily below-par fighting, however a spiritual battle to be a much closer Muslim by channeling out nice and also precluding evil.

“They clarified that in Singapore, Muslims can truthfully practise their religion without any type of disturbance,” Hamzah said, adding that the context in Singapore is unalike from unlike other countries without religious leeway.

While shell policemans kneaded by means of him, unlike other policemans were deputized to his family to modernize them on his rehabilitation.

A private tutor was correspondingly issued to prepare him for his O levels.

After his initially month in detention, Hamzah’s family was made it viable for to find him in man each week.

“It’s nice to thieve that when you’re let loose, somebody will distinctly be there to treatment for you,” said Hamzah.

For Daniel, the realisation that he owned wasted his earlier last offer gained his detention a traumatic one.

It was correspondingly tricky being in a cell by himself.

“When I was alone in my cell, I would agenda and also reckon around the lessons I located (in detention),” he said.

“It was a traumatic process, however I was labelled to go by means of it to healing.”

A fierce establish was that he was made it viable for to watch some television regimens, encompassing documentaries, religious talks by expanse asatizah (religious teachers), and also flicks in English and also Malay and also on nationwide education and also learning.

His shell policemans correspondingly took treatment of him when he was nauseous and also guaranteed that he got treatment from a medical specialist.

Via the assistances of his college and also three Religious Recovery Group volunteers that were correspondingly enlightened teachers, Daniel sat his N-level tests and also inevitably scored four accolades.

He is presently pursuing quickly post-secondary education and also learning.

ISD correspondingly made it viable for Aakeel to earn utility of the Web for his college job regardless of being under the constraint act, on the disorder that he be wonderfully closely peeked after.

Sorting endorse, Daniel said his detention accessorized him by means of expertise to much closer weigh outlines, as flawlessly as to filter after his emotions in times of regiment. It owns correspondingly lugged him closer to his family.

“They commentated me occasionally and also stored me suggested to keep focused on my rehabilitation. I find them as my heroes,” he added.

Prior to his run away, ISD desperate up for Hamzah to reprieve the news to his family.

“We were slackened by means of the news and also broke down sobbing… The family took turns to hug him and also expressed our gratitude towards the ISD policemans,” said Aishah.

Both Hamzah and also Daniel invested 2 years in detention before they were let loose and also slumped on constraint edicts. Daniel lingers to serve out his constraint act.

Learning from past missteps

While the four of them are channeling out flawlessly to rehabilitate into society, they perpetuate to grip their past close to their chest, in stress and also agitation of being stigmatised for having been radicalised before.

While Saad was not arrested prefer Hamzah and also Daniel were, he said the digital tag he owned to wear to college evoked him to be ridiculed. His schoolmates laughed at him when he oriented them why he owned to wear a surveillance tag.

“It took me a week, or also a month, to process what I owned to go by means of – every day, I yelped,” he said.

“The majority of of my schoolmates were judgmental… however to me, it was inspiration to action ahead in my researches and also do much closer than them.”

Saad is presently a logistics and also bureaucratic executive, while Aakeel, whose constraint act correspondingly lapsed in 2020, is a repairman.

Hamzah, that is presently a promotional executive, said he performs not share his past by means of most human beings.

“There’s surely a hunch, however what arised in yesteryear is in yesteryear. The lone means is to preserve fluctuating ahead,” he said.

“Only human beings that are close to me thieve what I’ve been by means of. But unlike other than that, I just reside a communal openings.”

With one voice four urged young human beings to seek explanations from reputable resources, such as expanse religious leaders, if they have uncertainties around their faith.

How parents prefer to respond dilemmas too, said both Rosnah and also Aishah, that both have unlike other offsprings.

Daniel’s problem owns taught her to be nonessential attentive in overseeing her offsprings, said Rosnah.

“I ought to have nonessential amenable involvement by means of my offsprings and also pay focus nonessential to what they claim, or their objectives,” she added.

If she could revolve endorse time, Aishah said she would have oriented Hamzah to seek assistances from a religious counsellor when he disclosed his schemes to traveling to Syria.

“I ought to not have just disregarded it and also believed that he would snatch my recommendations.”

This devise-up was initially posted in The Straits Times. Authorization pertinent for recreation.

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